Book Review: “Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything” by Joshua Foer

This is a fun read for me. The author took the journey to reach the US memory championship out of the curiosity and good journalism. With some coaching from one of the ex-world champions. He was able to reach the pinnacle of memorization, leveraging ancient techniques (like memory palace). I have learned a few memorization techniques and lots of sciences and tidbits about memorization.

There were stories of the Russian journalist “S” with perceptual disorder of “synthesthesa,” chicken sexer’s use of memory to decipher the sex of a chicken within half a second or 1200 chicks an hour.

The magic number 7 puts us at the limit of memorizing 7 things +/-2, according George Miller of Harvard psychologist in 1956. This was the reason that the phone number comes in 7 digits. Chunking is a way to decrease the number of items you have to remember by increasing the size of each number. This was the reason the phone numbers are broken into two parts plus an area code.

Chess masters tend to have a good memory especially of the various chess patterns. But we remember things in context, not isolated facts. “A great memory isn’t just a by-product of expertise; it is the essence of expertise.”

“Our lives are structured by our memories of events. We remember events by positioning them in time relative to other events. Just as we accumulate memories of facts by integrating them into a network, we accumulate life experience by integrating them into a web of other chronological memories. The denser the web, the denser the experience of time.” “Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it. You can exercise daily and eat healthily and live a long life, while experiencing a short one.” “Life seems to speed up as we get older because life gets less memorable as we get older. “If to remember is to be human, then remembering more means being more human.”

We remember nothing these days, thanks to the “external memory/information” readily available on the net where one can easily google to find things. Now with the recent advances in cloud computer, we don’t even need to store anything in our computer, even less than in our brain. Interesting history of recording facts (Mark Twain, Loisette, Gordon Bell of Microsoft and etc.)are described in the book.

Scientists generally divide memories broadly into two types: declarative and non-declarative (explicit and implicit). Within declarative memories, a further distinction divides between semantic (memories for factors and concepts), and episodic memories (memories of the experiences of our own lives). Each time we think about a memory, we integrate it more deeply into our web of other memories, and therefore make it more stable and less likely to be dislodged. But in the process, we also transform the memory, and re-shape it – sometimes to the point that our memories of events bear only a passing resemblance to what actually happened. “Older memories are often remembered as if captured by a third person holding a camera, whereas more recent events tend to be remembered in the first person, as if through one’s own eyes. As if over time, the brain naturally turns episodes into facts. Sleep plays a critical role in the process of consolidating our memories and drawing meaning out of them.

PAO (Person-action-object) technique.

OK-plateau: 3 stages in acquiring a new skill: 1) cognitive stage (discovering new strategies), 2) associative stage (concentrating less, making few major mistakes), 3) autonomous stage: as good you need to get at the task. You lose conscious control over what you’re doing. “Deliberate practice” can break the OK-plateau by doing: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented, and getting constant and immediate feedback on their performance – stay in “cognitive phase.” By practicing failing and putting yourself in the mind of someone far more competent at the task you’re trying to master.

Buzan’s quote: “The art and science of memory is about developing the capacity to quickly create images that link disparate ideas. Creativity is the ability to form similar connections between disparate images and to create something new and hurl it into the future so it becomes a poem, or a building, or a dance, or a novel. Creativity is, in a sense, future memory.”

Savants’ stories like Daniel Tammet’s story and Kim Peek were detailed in the book.

In the last chapter, Joshua Foer described play-by-play how he won the US Memory championship. It appears that his memory was at its best when he won.